January 20, 2022
January 2022: Fire/Emergency Response Services
Hello Gilroy! In this first month of 2022, I begin the year with a Spotlight on the Gilroy Fire Department. As always, what you read in this monthly spotlight newsletter from me will be followed up with in-person Conversation and Coffee with the Mayor on the first Saturday of the following month in Council Chambers at 9:30am. Fire Chief Jim Wyatt will be joining me, as well as City Administrator Jimmy Forbis, so please mark your calendars for Saturday, February 5 and plan to attend. There’s a lot of information here, and we look forward to face-to-face discussions with you, albeit with our ever-present virus and mask requirements. Please note that seating in Council Chambers will be pre-arranged with safety protocols, and the indoor mask requirements must be observed while not taking those sips of coffee or water.

I hope you value the information you’re about to read. See you on February 5th!

Mayor Marie Blankley, CPA
About Fire Chief Jim Wyatt
Jim Wyatt was appointed as the Fire Chief for the City of Gilroy Fire Department (GFD) on October 1, 2020. He is a veteran of the fire service with over 40 years of fire and EMS experience. Prior to coming to Gilroy Fire in 2014, he worked for Campbell Fire and San Jose Fire Departments, promoting through the ranks and eventually retiring as a Battalion Chief. Prior to his appointment as Fire Chief of Gilroy, he worked for the City as a Fire Division Chief and managed the Emergency Medical Services program that included all fire paramedics and EMT service.

As an experienced fire service & paramedic instructor, Chief Wyatt specialized in providing medical training to both firefighters and the public. Working in cooperation with Gilroy Unified School District, he assisted in the acquisition of public-access automated external defibrillators for every school and managed the training of over 7,000 students and teachers in CPR. At the initial start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Wyatt used his expertise and experience as an infection control officer to lead and bring about safe practices for all firefighters in their daily provision of care to patients suffering from the effects of COVID infection,and also safe practices for the benefit of all city employees and those with whom they come in contact. As soon as the COVID vaccine became available, Chief Wyatt connected with the County Department of Public Health so that Gilroy firefighters could vaccinate as many of our residents as possible. During last year’s mega-fires that burned over two million acres in California, Chief Wyatt initiated a partnership between the City and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to staff a wildland fire engine with Gilroy firefighters for a total of 81 days of continuous deployment. As per the Region II Chief of CalOES, Gilroy firefighters set a new statewide standard for commitment to the state’s fire mutual aid program.
From Chief Wyatt

I am honored to be a part of the Gilroy Fire Department and this great Gilroy community. I have lived in Gilroy with my wife and children for 36 years. We are proud to make Gilroy our home, and it is truly meaningful to help make our community safer with a well-trained and experienced fire department. The professionalism and competency exhibited by our firefighters in the daily provision of service is a credit to the City administration and its political leadership. This City has long supported and takes great pride in its fire department.

Overview from the Mayor

The Gilroy Fire Department is comprised of 40 fire/medical response personnel, one Fire Chief and two support staff, all of whom diligently serve our Gilroy community. Calls for both fire and emergency medical service (EMS) are handled by three fire stations and a fourth temporary station. Each of the three permanent fire stations is equipped 24/7 with a fully staffed (crew of 3, consisting of 1 firefighter/paramedic, 1 fire engineer, and 1 fire captain) Type 1 fire engine, in accordance with minimum standards set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Firefighters’ Local 2805. The fourth and temporary fire station is located at Christmas Hill Park within the Santa Teresa District (STR) and is staffed 12/7 (from 8am – 8pm) with a crew of two consisting of 1 firefighter/paramedic and 1 fire captain, and a Type 6 wildland fire engine and/or a fire ambulance. A Fire Division Chief supervises all stations and responds to incidents in which multiple fire crews are dispatched, typically structure fires, wildland fires, and vehicle accidents.

Of the 15 cities in Santa Clara County, Gilroy is one of seven (Gilroy, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Milpitas and Palo Alto) with its own fire department personnel. The remaining 8 cities outsource their fire/medical response personnel to CalFire or Santa Clara County Fire. This is an important distinction to understand when considering Standards of Coverage and personnel costs by city, particularly when residents often compare the finances and resources of one city to another as though cities have the same level of service and personnel costs. Such a comparison is frequently made between Gilroy and Morgan Hill, for example, even though Morgan Hill uses CalFire personnel to staff their fire stations, the cost for which varies significantly from that of Gilroy’s own fire department personnel.

Building the Santa Teresa Fire Station

To keep up with the growing population demands and expanded housing needs, the City is working to finalize the funding necessary to begin construction on a new fire station. This station, slated to be built at the corner of West Luchessa and Miller in the Glen Loma development area, would eventually serve the STR with a fully staffed (crew of three) Type I fire engine capable of providing first-in fire protection and EMS response. This new station would significantly improve fire protection and EMS response not only to STR, but to the entire City as a whole, thereby meeting the Standards of Coverage recommendation that was adopted by the City Council in December of 2019. With the building and staffing of the new Santa Teresa Station, response times to fire and EMS calls within STR would be reduced by nearly three minutes, while responses throughout the City would be reduced by nearly a full minute.

As part of the City’s agreement (the Glen Loma Specific Plan) with the Glen Loma Ranch developers, the developers’ obligation to construct the City’s 4th fire station is automatically triggered with the issuance of the 1,100th residential construction permit. To date, that condition has not been triggered and is not expected to be triggered for quite some time, thus the City and Glen Loma representatives have been working to modify the existing agreement in order to accelerate the construction of the fire station and remove the permit conditions.  At this time, much progress has been made and the current focus is the analysis and potential revision of the development agreement that would allow for the construction of the fire station prior to the issuance of the 1,100th construction permit. It is anticipated that a resolution to the discussions will occur within the next few months.

Along with building the 4th fire station comes the need to staff it.The temporary Santa Teresa Station is staffed with one Firefighter/paramedic and one Captain for a total of 12 hours per day. These two personnel staff either the smaller Type 6 wildland fire engine or the fire ambulance for emergency response. The completed and permanent fire station, for which the City is already equipped with a Type 1 Fire Engine, would need to be fully staffed (crew of 3) 24/7, just as are Gilroy’s other three fire stations. Costs for staffing the fire station are expected in the range of $1.5 - $2 million annually – costs that are not included in the City’s current budget and must be identified in order to staff the fire station.

There is no doubt that the 4th fire station is needed and there have been benefits to having the temporary fire station on the southwest side of Gilroy. In the last five years, the City has experienced growth in emergency calls for service; more than 30% overall (approximately 90 percent of emergency calls for service are for medical response). This reflects the growing population within the City and the mounting demand for essential services.

COVID-19 Response to the On-Going Pandemic

The City of Gilroy was one of the first in the County to recognize the dangerous nature and far-reaching implications of the COVID-19 virus on the public’s health as well as the medical community. As medical protective equipment supplies were quickly dwindling throughout the country, GFD began working to find alternative means to protect its workforce so that firefighter response and critical medical treatment could be maintained without sacrificing patient or responder safety. GFD was able to purchase large quantities of personal protective equipment and supplies, thus guaranteeing that the emergency medical care for our most vulnerable population would not be compromised, and our essential City workers could remain protected throughout the pandemic.

GFD utilized its firefighters as specially trained vaccinators to vaccinate the elderly of Gilroy first, then eventually all the community who were qualified to receive the vaccine. GFD was the first department to utilize its fire ambulance to provide a mobile vaccination clinic at the home of persons who could not receive the vaccine at established public sites. Thousands of vaccinations were administered, and countless lives were saved by the selfless work of many City employees.

Commitment to Statewide Fire Mutual Aid

Daily, the City of Gilroy routinely relies upon local mutual aid to augment fire resources responding to calls for service within the City. The Department depends heavily on our neighbors to the north as much as they rely on us to respond when our help is needed in their jurisdiction. This same spirit of cooperation is needed when other communities throughout the State are in crisis and require help as part of the Statewide fire mutual aid program. In early 2021, the City entered into an agreement with the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to provide Gilroy firefighter staffing on a State-owned wildland fire engine. The benefit of this agreement to the City provided the following: (1) an additional fully equipped wildland Type 6 fire engine that is capable of responding to fire emergencies within the City; (2) a source of revenue whenever CalOES activates the wildland engine for response into other jurisdictions; (3) an opportunity for fire captains and firefighters to gain needed experience fighting large fires that threaten people’s homes and entire towns; (4) opportunity for the City of Gilroy to “pay it forward” to other communities just as Gilroy has received the generosity of resources and the help from others during various calamities that have befallen on our community. The City recently had such an opportunity to help several communities in desperate need during the 2021 mega-fires that scorched over two million acres in northern California. During the 81 days of continuous deployment, GFD directly saved dozens of homes and participated in the protection of several communities. GFD personnel distinguished themselves at dozens of incidents and became regarded has highly dependable and competent at what they do.

Public Safety Partnership-Drone Program

Recently, GFD has partnered with Gilroy Police Department (GPD) to participate in the Public Safety Drone Program. This Program provides GFD unique opportunities to join PD in the enforcement of illegal fireworks and the early detection of dangerous fires caused by them that have plagued our community during some of the driest fire seasons in decades. In addition to illegal fireworks enforcement, PD drone pilots have recently assisted us by providing fire safety over watch while firefighters battled a two-alarm commercial building fire. The PD drone pilots were able provide the fire incident commander with real-time viewing of the exact location and progression of the fire, instantly relaying if the firefighters could continue safely fighting the blaze in their vicinity, or if the firefighters were placing themselves too close to the hazard. Nighttime fires, whether wildland or structures, are particularly hazardous for firefighters.

The latest state-of-the-art infrared technology offered by these drones, allows the fire incident commander to accurately map large areas within seconds of deployment so that effective fire tactics could be used. Nighttime search and rescue operations have also been significantly enhanced by the use of these public safety drones. GFD is now beginning to appreciate the new level of safety and firefighting abilities afforded through this public safety partnership and this 21st century technology.